Book Review: The Spirits of Six Minstrel Run by Matthew S. Cox

The Spirits of Six Minstrel Run

The Spirits of Six Minstrel Run

Title: The Spirits of Six Minstrel Run
Author: Matthew S. Cox
Genre: Fantasy
Date of Publication: January 18, 2019
Publisher: Division Zero Press


Synopsis 

When Mia’s husband buys a beautiful old house at a bargain, she can’t help but wonder what’s wrong with it. She doesn’t have to wonder for long, because it quickly becomes obvious that the house is haunted.  Her husband is delighted–he’s a university professor who’s looking for proof of the paranormal. Mia quickly discovers that she’s psychically sensitive to the spirits in this house. While one of them is a harmless little girl Mia would do anything to protect, there is something else that is much more sinister lurking the halls of Six Minstrel Run…

Plot 

This novel fights a lot of tropes in the paranormal activity subgenre.  First off, Adam, a professor at the university, bought this house because he knew it was haunted. He wanted to see if he could capture evidence of the existence of ghosts on camera.  This automatically sets this novel apart from others like it–where there is that inevitable first third of the book where the protagonists are in denial that supernatural beings exist.  Even Mia, the skeptic, believes that there is a ghost in this house within the first few chapters.

There is a lot of paranormal activity right off the bat, which also sets this book apart. Usually in novels like this the author plays with shadowy figures in the corner of your eye, mysterious noises in the dead of night, and other events that can be attributed to the imagination or natural phenomenon.  But this book escalates things a lot more quickly. The plot isn’t about whether or not the protagonists believe there is a ghost. It’s about Mia getting to know the ghost of the little girl that lives there, all the while questioning if she’s truly a little girl at all, or if she’s something insidious…

The book also has religious undertones, as there is a priest who makes regular appearances at Six Minstrel Run, warning Adam and Mia that they need to leave before its too late.  He fears for their souls, though Adam and Mia find him more annoying than the ghosts inhabiting their home. This theme is carried throughout, as Mia was raised Catholic but turned against her religion for slightly spoilery reasons. 

Characters 

I had to suspend my disbelief just a tad when reading this book. Some of the plot points that I lauded in the “Plot” section make for unrealistic main characters.  Mia is supposedly a skeptic, yet the first time she has a paranormal encounter in this book, she instantly believes. Both Mia and Adam are invested in keeping the house, but as the paranormal events escalate, they remain oblivious to the danger they’re truly in.  Even someone who was desperate to prove the paranormal exists would have run for the hills after some of the events that take place early on in this story.  The main characters’ lack of relatability can be countered by saying that the novel isn’t meant to be horror, and that it at times takes a sardonic tone, but whether that was intentional or not is unclear.  The writing style is a lot lighter than you would expect a book with this type of plot to be.  I talk a bit more about this element a little more in depth in the Language section below.

There is a lot of cutesy back and forth banter between Mia and Adam, which serves to make me as the reader truly invested in their relationship.  They love each other, and there’s never a point in the novel where I questioned that even for a moment. 

I was particularly invested in the strange yet beautiful relationship between Mia and the ghost girl.  It’s clear that Mia has motherly instincts despite not being a mother, and she worries for the safety of the little girl, what with the other spirits that inhabit this house. She wants to protect her, despite not truly knowing if she isn’t dangerous, and the relationship is quite tender and refreshing.  It also adds to the horror element, as there’s nothing scarier than a child that might just be homicidal.  The little girl ghost is adorable yet incredibly creepy, a beautiful dichotomy that makes this book truly unique.

Language 

As mentioned earlier, the tone of the book is light. It reminded me a little of Jay Ansen’s “The Amityville Horror”, as it has that sense of the author calmly relaying the facts, no matter how disturbing they might be.  Many books rely on language to instill that fear in the reader, yet in this case (and in The Amityville Horror’s case), the language was a mere medium for relaying the horror of the events that unfold.  

The Spirits of Six Minstrel Run

I recommend this book to anyone looking for a refreshing take on an old subgenre–the ghost story–with a unique twist.

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*Thank you to Blackthorn Book Tours  for ebook for review*

Author Bio:

Originally from South Amboy NJ, Matthew has been creating science fiction and fantasy worlds for most of his reasoning life. Since 1996, he has developed the “Divergent Fates” world in which Division Zero, Virtual Immortality, The Awakened Series, The Harmony Paradox, the Prophet of the Badlands series, and the Daughter of Mars series take place.

His books span adult, young-adult, and middle-grade fiction in multiple genres, predominantly science fiction, cyberpunk, post-apocalyptic, and fantasy.

Matthew is an avid gamer, a recovered WoW addict, developer of two custom tabletop RPG systems, and a fan of anime, British humour, and intellectual science fiction that questions the nature of humanity, reality, life, and what might happen after it.

He is also fond of cats, presently living with two: Loki and Dorian.

Author links:

Goodreads | AmazonFacebook | Twitter | Instagram | Pinterest

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Book Review: Every Time He Dies by Tara East

Every Time He Dies

Every Time He Dies

Title: Every Time He Dies
Author: Tara East
Genre: Fantasy, Mystery
Date of Publication: November 5, 2019
Publisher: Self-Published


Synopsis

When Daphne’s cop fiance dies in an accident that she feels responsible for, she gives up her career dreams of becoming a toxicologist and instead becomes an embalmer. A year and a half later, she finds a wristwatch on the ground at the beach, and she is suddenly haunted by the ghost of a man who doesn’t remember who he is or how he died. Daphne is forced to confront the grief of losing her fiance while helping this man to find peace.  Meanwhile, her estranged cop father is investigating a brutal murder, and Daphne unknowingly finds herself caught in the killer’s crosshairs…

Plot

Every Time He Dies is a gripping read from its very first pages.  Told in the third person, there are multiple perspectives shown throughout the novel, including those of Daphne and her father.  It isn’t clear right away where the story is going to go, and there are several seemingly disconnected subplots. Tara East expertly weaves from one to the other, so that the two subplots do not actually seem all that disjointed.  All the subplots tie together quite nicely in a climactic end to a thrilling read.  There are no plot holes in this thrill ride.

Continue reading “Book Review: Every Time He Dies by Tara East”

Book Review: Her Crown of Fire by Renee April

Her Crown of Fire

Her Crown of Fire

Title: Her Crown of Fire 
Author: Renee April
Series: Molten Fire # 1

Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult
Date of Publication: November 1, 2019
Publisher: Write Plan


Synopsis

Seventeen-year-old Rose Evermore is just a normal teenager who has no idea what she wants to be when she grows up. That is, until she suddenly discovers her magical affinity for fire and develops dreams that predict the future.  Before she knows it, she winds up in a fantasy realm called Lotheria—with her best friend, Tyson, who has no magic. She is taken to the mysterious Academy to learn to use her magic, while Tyson must hide from the authorities—at the risk of death.  Rose needs to find a way to get them back home, before Tyson becomes the next target of the headmasters’ frightening wrath.

My Thoughts

This book is a real page-turner! I had a hard time putting this book down at bedtime.  From the first page I could tell that this was going to be different from other books like this. I kept expecting it to fall into common tropes.  While it’s still a book about a girl who discovers her magical powers and is torn away from her life and forced to live in a magical world where she must attend a school for magic, the individual plot points are quite unique from other similar books.

The atmosphere of this story is quite dark, darker than expected, and the Headmasters of the school are far from warm and cuddly. Punishments are severe, and they come with even the teeniest, tiniest of infractions.

At the risk of spoilers, I want to be super vague when I talk about the romance in this story. Rose does not fall for who I was expecting her to fall for, which was a pleasant surprise.  I was fully expecting April to write the more obvious of the romances (there are quite a few potential love interests), and she went with someone else entirely.  That said, the romance felt rushed towards the end of the book, and I would have preferred if Rose had interacted with her love interest a little more earlier on, had some longing glances and whatnot to build up to their passionate love affair.

I did find a few parts of the book confusing, especially earlier on. When Rose first shows up in this unique world and is taken to the Academy to study magic, she experiences a strange magical… something. Was it a test? A hazing ritual?  I’m still not entirely sure what I had read, and it happened early enough in the book that it left me worried that I would experience that level of confusion again. Fortunately, it’s the only part of the book that really left me scratching my head, as everything else was quite easy to follow.  If you experience the same while reading this book, I encourage you to push through it, because this read is quite rewarding!

One part of the book that I absolutely adored is the use of Runes. April has created a unique type of magic that leaves me aching for more. You know that a writer has created an interesting type of magic when I long to read a textbook on the subject. Yeah, I know that sounds weird, but I want to read a textbook on Runes written by Renee April. (I am a librarian and researcher, after all! It shouldn’t be so hard to believe). Other aspects of the magic in this world are just as interesting, especially the unique take on soulmates, and I’m eager to explore this world more in the next instalment in this series.

Her Crown of Fire

I recommend this book to anyone looking to get lost in a dark, magical world.

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*Thank you to Write Plan for the advanced reader copy for review*

Find the book:

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Book Review: Beneath London’s Fog by Iona Caldwell

Beneath London's Fog book cover

Title: Beneath London’s Fog 
Author: Iona Caldwell
Genre: Horror, Fantasy
Date of Publication: October 30, 2019
Publisher: FyreSyde Publishing


Synopsis

A centuries-old vampire haunts the streets of London at night, but he isn’t the monster one would expect. Jonathan once fell in love with a human, Anna, who died tragically, breaking his heart.  Now he does not kill to feed, though it would make him stronger. He lives in the feared Raven Hollow Manor with his daughter, an orphaned human he adopted.  Since he does not kill, he is safe from persecution, that is, until another vampire comes to town and this one doesn’t share Jonathan’s moral code…

Plot 

This is a novella, which is both a strength and a weakness. It’s a strength, because every word that Caldwell writes serves a purpose to either create atmosphere, plunge the plot forward, or develop three-dimensional characters. It’s also a weakness because I wanted more!

This book is rocket-fast paced. It’s designed as a quick and tumultuous adventure, rather than a long and arduous trek, which is often the case with Victorian-era vampire fiction.

There are many flashbacks throughout the story, but they felt a little too rushed to my liking. It often felt like a scene ended just when it was really beginning.  Caldwell had a dynamic idea that could have easily been extended into a full-length piece.

The plot of this novel did seem familiar, as if I’ve read it before. While deemed “horror” the book isn’t particularly scary. However, it does deal with some dark themes, (and vampires ripping out people’s throats is always considered horror, right?). That said, I would categorize this book more as a compelling mystery masquerading as a Gothic vampire horror.

Characters 

While fast-paced, the novel doesn’t forego necessary character descriptions. Jonathan isn’t a mysterious cloaked figure, but a well-fleshed out character. Caldwell does this through flashbacks as well as present-day interactions with his daughter.

Because of the shortness of the book, we don’t get to see as much of other characters, such as the villain (I’ll leave it vague since that’s a  spoiler!) or even his daughter, Anna. I would have liked to learn more about Anna, her motivations, and maybe experience more flashbacks to when she was first adopted by this creature of the night. What happens when a centuries-old vampire is raising a teenager? I’m hoping that future instalments in this series will give me the juicy details that I want!

Language

Beneath London’s Fog reads like other classic vampire stories–particularly Dracula or Interview with the Vampire. The style is authentic to the time period. The writing is also almost epistolary in the way that Jonathan seems to address the reader, but this isn’t extended throughout the whole story, which might have disconnected the readers from the action.

While Caldwell uses an older style of writing, this doesn’t detract from the quick pace of reading.  There aren’t any long, monotonous speeches, as seen in classic horror novels such as Dracula.  That said, there were occasional parts where the grammar seemed stilted, which is to be expected when using this style of writing.

Setting

Somehow in a 100-page novel, Caldwell hits all four readers advisory (librarian-nerd alert!) appeal factors–including setting, which is often neglected in shorter pieces.  She takes her time describing the city, as well as Raven Hollow Manor. She provides twisted history of this building, which was a delightfully dark surprise. But again, I wish she had delved deeper into the beautiful world she created. I wanted to learn more about the madman that had once lived in Raven Hollow, or the monster that apparently lurks deep beneath it.

Beneath London's Fog

I recommend this novella to anyone looking for a cozy horror story to read on a cold evening while curled up by the fireplace with a cat on one side and a glass of blood–er–wine on the other.

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*Thank you to FyreSyde Publishing for the advanced reader copy for review*

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Book Review: Sky in the Deep by Adrienne Young

Sky in the Deep

Sky in the Deep

Title: Sky in the Deep
Author: Adrienne Young
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy, Historical Fiction
Date of Publication: April 24, 2018
Publisher: Wednesday Books


Synopsis

Young Eelyn was raised to be a warrior in her Viking clan, the Aska, where she fought side by side with her brother until he died in battle. Years later, seventeen-year-old Eelyn  is fighting in a particularly brutal battle when she sees her brother alive and well and fighting for the other side.  Compelled to follow him, she is distracted and finds herself captured by her enemy, the Riki.  It is then that she discovers that not only is her brother fighting with the enemy, but he has become the enemy.  Betrayed and furious, she is now a servant to her brother’s new family, and she must figure out a way to escape, or she must learn to trust her brother again.

Plot

Finally, a young adult book about Vikings!  Sky in the Deep is fast-paced from start to finish. I was immediately enraptured by Adrienne Young’s language, and the not-so-subtle violence that occurred in the beginning of the book.  While I’m not familiar with Viking history at all, the setting and way that the characters act felt genuine to that time period, at least, as much as a young adult book can be.

Continue reading “Book Review: Sky in the Deep by Adrienne Young”

Book Review: Rose by Rami Ungar

Rose by Rami Ungar

Rose book cover

Title: Rose
Author: Rami Ungar
Genre: Horror
Date of Publication: June 19, 2019
Publisher: Castrum Press


Synopsis

When Rose awakens in a greenhouse with no memory of how she got there, she’s horrified to discover that her body has transformed. Her memories are a jumble, and she encounters a strange man named Paris who claims to be the love of her life. She doesn’t remember him at all. He says that he saved her life using magic he found in an ancient tome, and that her bodily transformation is an unfortunate side effect. But there’s a sinister side to Paris that scares her and makes her question everything he’s told her…

Plot

The story gripped me from its very first lines.  Ungar keeps the pages turning with a fast-paced plot.  The novel itself is only 208 pages, and he fits quite a bit of action among its pages. The story is intense and dark and fit for any fan of the horror genre.

The transformations that Rose undergoes are truly unique, and Ungar has created a new horror monster that isn’t quite like the rest.  He establishes limitations for her that make the story more interesting, as we discover that Rose cannot simply escape from Paris’ home.

While compelling, there are some aspects to the story that require a suspension of disbelief, and those have nothing to do with the magic.  For example, what are the odds that both Rose and Paris speak Dutch?  There are also a few inconsistencies in the plot. Rose’s parents are uneducated, yet one of them is a librarian? Ahem. I’m going to let that one slide, but just FYI, you need at least one master’s degree to be a librarian. Rose is Paris’ sociology “teacher”, but I couldn’t quite tell if that meant she was his professor or teaching assistant.  These little inconsistencies are nitpicking, and while they did confuse me somewhat while reading the story, they didn’t affect my enjoyment of it.

Characters

Rose is categorized as a horror, and while there’s some body horror in her transformations, the real horror lies in what a human would do with seemingly infinite power.  Paris’ transformation may not be a physical one, but it is the most terrifying part of this story.  Paris is a fascinating character with a horrifying past that has distorted him into the man he is today.

As mentioned earlier, Rose has lost her memories. Part of the fact that she has lost her memories means that she could be any one of us.  There aren’t any obvious aspects of her past that distinguish her from any other woman reading the book, and that relatability adds a personal touch to the horror. Ungar manages to develop her personality well without having the crutch of many flashbacks to draw on.  She questions her sanity more than once which, again, adds another level of horror to the novel.  As the story progresses, she regains some of her memories, and this enables Ungar to flesh her out into an even more compelling character.

There are other characters in the story, but they aren’t as well developed, which is the nature of such a short, plot-driven book. Had Ungar decided to make the novel longer, I would have liked to have seen more of these characters on the pages.

Rose

I recommend this book to those looking for a psychological thriller with a body horror twist.

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*Thank you to the Blackthorn Book Tours for the ebook for review*

Author bio:

Rami Ungar knew he wanted to be a writer from the age of five, when he first became exposed to the world of Harry Potter and wanted to create imaginative worlds like Harry’s. As a tween, he fell in love with the works of Anne Rice and Stephen King and, as he was getting too old to sneak up on people and shout “Boo!’ (not that that ever stopped him), he decided to merge his two loves and become a horror writer.

Today, Rami lives and writes in Columbus, Ohio. He’s self-published three novels and one collection of short stories, and his stories have appeared in other publications here and there. Rose, his first novel with Castrum Press, will be released June 21st, 2019.

When he’s not writing your nightmares or coming up with those, he’s enjoying anything from the latest horror novel or movie to anime and manga to ballet, collecting anything that catches his fancy, and giving you the impression he may not be entirely human.

Author links:

Goodreads | Amazon | Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | YouTube

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Book Review: Brimstone by Tamara Thorne

Brimstone

Brimstone book cover

Title: Brimstone
Author: Tamara Thorne
Genre: Horror
Date of Publication: May 9, 2019
Publisher: Glass Apple Press


Synopsis

Eleven-year-old Holly Tremayne has been able to see ghosts her entire life.  When Holly’s mother brings her to stay with her reclusive grandmother, retired actress Delilah Devine, at the Brimstone Grand Hotel, Holly’s excited to be staying at a haunted place. But what she doesn’t realize is that the ghosts are quite aggressive, and that she is personally connected to the most dangerous ghost of all… the Brimstone Beast.

Continue reading “Book Review: Brimstone by Tamara Thorne”

Book Review: The Devil’s Apprentice by Kenneth B. Andersen

Picture of book

Book cover

Title: The Devil’s Apprentice
Author: Kenneth B. Andersen
Series: The Great Devil War I

Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy
Date of Publication: October 8, 2018
Publisher: Amazon Digital Services LLC


Synopsis

Philip is a thirteen year old boy who has always been well behaved. He’s a boy scout, he does his chores on time, and he’s always eager to help anyone who might need his assistance.  But when he dies unexpectedly, a mix up causes him to find himself in hell.  Not only is he expected to stay there, but he is required to enter training to become the successor of the Devil himself.  Philip must learn to survive, but who can he trust? And, most importantly, will he still be the same person when–if–he gets out of this?

Continue reading “Book Review: The Devil’s Apprentice by Kenneth B. Andersen”

Book Review: Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

Six of Crows Book Cover

Six of Crows Book Cover

Title: Six of Crows
Author: Leigh Bardugo
Series: Six of Crows #1
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy 
Date of Publication: September 29, 2015
Publisher: Henry Holt and Company


Synopsis

Six teenage criminal outcasts in the bustling city of Ketterdam come together to pull off an impossible heist. The result could change the world they live in forever. But do they all want the same thing?

World-Building

I never read the Grisha series, but that didn’t affect my enjoyment of this new book set in that same world. It was easy to jump into this elaborately created world.  Bardugo provides just enough information about the world for readers to understand how it works, but not so much that it feels like an info-dump. She interweaves this information into the plot, revealing what we need to know as we need to know it.  Perfectly done!

Plot and Characters

There are a lot of critical characters in this book, and many of them get their own point of view chapters. For any other book, this would bog down the pace, making the story unnecessarily complicated and hard to follow.  Yet somehow Bardugo manages to propel the plot line forward while delving deep into every single character. She even integrates flashbacks to provide such depth to these characters. There isn’t a single two-dimensional, uninteresting character in the bunch. Even Wylan, who, at the beginning, I thought might be the one dud, has an interesting character-development, and I absolutely loved his interactions with Jesper.  

Having this many three-dimensional characters should result in a less-interesting plot. That’s not the case. The heist they plan and pull off is intense and compelling at every corner.  

I did find that the characters weren’t quite like teenagers. This is one thing I enjoy about books like these. The characters are mature beyond their years because of the situations they’ve had to survive, yet they still have some small resemblances to the teenagers that they actually are. There might be a hint of naivety or a touch of teenage narcissism. But this gives each character some growing to do, even though it already seems like they’re grown up.

Language

This is touched on in the plot and characters section.  How can you develop such intriguing characters and a compelling plot without being an expert at the English language? Bardugo selects every word carefully. There’s no extraneous paragraphs that should have been cut at the chopping block. Everything she writes has its purpose and is elegantly written. I suspect this is another reason why this book is so dang popular.  

Six of Crows Book Cover

I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a good high fantasy novel, even if they’re not necessarily interested in young adult fiction.  This is a perfect gateway book into the young adult and fantasy genres, as it’s strong in all four major appeal elements of reading – setting, language, fictions, characters, and plot.  There are some surprisingly gory scenes, which is why I wouldn’t recommend this book to younger readers.

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Book Review: The Lost Coast by Amy Rose Capetta

The Lost Coast book cover

The Lost Coast Book cover

Title: The Lost Coast
Author: Amy Rose Capetta
Genre: Fantasy, Literary, LGBTQ+
Date of Publication: May 14,  2019
Publisher: Candlewick


Synopsis

The Lost Coast is a highly literary coming of age tale of a group of teenage witches, self-named the Grays.  Their leader, Imogen, has gone missing, and they’ve tried nearly everything to find her. But when Danny moves to town, she brings with her a unique type of magic that might just be what they’re looking for, in more ways than one.

~My Thoughts~

This book is beautifully written, and the words are like poetry on the page.  It reminds me a little bit of a literary version of an 80s movie, with a bunch of lost kids trying to find their place in the world, but in this book, they’ve found their place–with each other.

There are many different points of view expressed throughout the book.  We get a lot of chapters from Danny’s point of view, and others from the Grays’, but we also get the perspective of the other high school students, which provides context for why the Grays feel so out of place in their little, traditional town.  To reinforce themes of magic in the book, Capetta occasionally provides the point of view of the trees and the ravens, which could be groan-worthy, but it somehow works.

Continue reading “Book Review: The Lost Coast by Amy Rose Capetta”